Monday, December 26, 2011

I'm Headed to the Dojo and I'm Getting in the Kickboxing Ring!

So, I went to the local mall on Thursday afternoon. Have you ever been to the mall in the afternoon three days before Christmas? It's kinda crazy out there.
I was wandering around attempting to buy a few things for my sweet patootie. She had given me a list of things she wanted but I had passed it on to my mother. So, in the middle of the mall, I found a place to sit and I called her to ask her what she HAD NOT bought off the list. I wish you could have been there...

Me: Hi, Mom. I'm at the mall and I'm trying to finish up my shopping for The Spouse. Do you still have that list I gave you?

Mom: Yes. I'm in my car. Let me call you back when I get stopped.

Me: Okay.

While I'm waiting for her to call back, I'm people watching in the mall. There were lots and lots of interesting folks out that afternoon. At some point, I tuned in to the man behind me who was talking loudly on his cell phone. He kept referring to the person he was talking to as "Killer" and he was saying things like, "Yeah, I'm down with you." "Look, Killer, I know how you roll." Just as I was about to tune out, I heard...

My birthday is coming up in a few months. Yeah...I'll be 35! Mom is taking me to the casino in St. Louis.


When I get my license back, I'm going to the dojo and I'm getting in the kickboxing ring, dude! .............I lost my license for a year......... It's crazy, Killer, I can't drive and I'm not doing anything. I need my license back so I can get to the dojo.

('Cause I'm louder than a bomb...) That's the ring tone I assigned to my Mom.

Me: Hi, Mom.

Mom: Hi. I have the list.

Me: Okay, so what did you not get her on the list? And...she begins reciting all of the things she DID get The Spouse from the list. Mom, wait. And, she continued to recite what she did get TS. Mom...hold on. I just need to know what you DIDN'T get her. And...the recitation continues. Okay, Mom, listen to me... I need to know WHAT YOU DIDN'T GET HER OFF THE LIST!

Mom: Oh....well, why didn't you say so?!

Me: Nevermind, I've got to take this dude behind me to the dojo and get in the kickboxing ring.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tis the Season...or, Whatever, I'm not necessarily a procrastinator when it comes to buying Christmas presents, but this year I had to wait until the last minute to get out and get my gifts.

If you are a regular reader, you know that The Spouse completely and totally controls most aspects of my life. (Most, in this instance, means ALL!)

So, she gave me my allowance late because she wanted to make sure we had the money before I was allowed to go out and buy. You see, she tends to think of me as a "spender". That's completely insane, of course. Just because I like to "purchase" things before checking to see if we can pay cash for it or not does not make me a "spender". Especially, if I can just put it on the credit card!

You should hear our conversations about money...

Spouse: Here's your money for Christmas gifts.

Me: Really? That's it?

Spouse: Yep, that's it. Make due with it.

Me: That's not much and I really wanted to buy you something super nice this year.

Spouse: I have what I need and I don't want you putting anything on the credit card!

Me: Christmas is all about giving and I'd like to give you something really nice this year. You know, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3! I know you've been wanting it and it's around $60. This won't cover it. If I could use the credit card, you could totally have that game and some other things.

Spouse: Ummm...I don't want Call of Duty, I don't play video games and you are full of crap.

Me: That's pretty harsh. Are you sure you don't want Call of Duty? I mean it's pretty awesome and we could totally bond over killing people and saving the world from communism. What more could you want? We'd be like Mr. and Mrs. Smith...Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Remember that movie! You loved it and I think I remember you saying that you would totally like to be able to do cool stuff like that.

Spouse: You're ridiculous. I did watch that with you but the rest of that is crap you made up in your head to justify buying that video game.

Me: I'm not sure I remember it that way...

Spouse: I'm not surprised.

Me: So, Call of Duty is out... what else is there for me to get you? You have everything you could need.

Spouse: I've given you a list.

Me: I gave it to my mother. She's better with gift buying than I am.

Spouse: I'll give you some more ideas: Janet Evanovich's new book, a gift certificate to Sephora, a gift card to Barnes and Noble, some gloves that will let me use my iPhone.

Me: BORING, BORING, BORING, BORING, BORING.... How could you want those things over Call of Duty?

Spouse: Leave the house. Go, now. You're driving me crazy.

Me: No wonder you're going crazy. All of those boring things would make you crazy. You need some excitement in your life. Call of Duty would give you that excitement!

Spouse: Leave now, or I'm calling your mother!

Me: It's a good thing Santa doesn't visit adults. He'd leave you high and dry, baby!

And, I left the house and headed to the mall. I still think she's making a big mistake, though.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I've been Snark Attacked!

I received the following comment from a blog reader:

Not to be snarky, but it's easy to sit on the outside, after having walked away from a great opportunity to make a difference, and take pot shots. So many of your posts so far have been extremely critical of education and those who are working in the field. But people like you who bail are just as much to blame. As they say, those who can to, those who can't write a blog and cast stones.

You can read my response in the the blog post on Settling for Mediocrity. Because, according to the poster, I'm a quitter, I'm partially responsible for the current state of education and am a stone caster, I feel the need to respond in a broader forum.

Statement 1: Not to be snarky, but it's easy to sit on the outside, after having walked away from a great opportunity to make a difference, and take pot shots.

My response: Starting a comment with the phrase: "Not to be snarky, but..." is an automatic RED FLAG for me. Your intent is clear, though, stated inversely: you intend to be snarky. My radar is up and I'm preparing for the attack. It's the two words "snarky" and "but" that gave you away. Next time, start off by complimenting me. That'll disarm me a bit and I wont be prepared for the attack.

As for the comment about sitting on the outside...that's a false statement. I'm inside schools almost daily. Most of the time I'm in several schools a day. I meet with principals, teachers, counselors, secretaries and others. As I discuss their school's needs, I consistently hear the same lamentations about the state of education. I've yet to meet someone who thinks it is fine as it is. You can call my posts "potshots" but I call them "the ugly truth." I do still make a difference in education. I just do it in a different way now. What is it that you do that makes a difference in the lives of children?

Statement 2: But people like you who bail are just as much to blame. As they say, those who can to, those who can't write a blog and cast stones.

My Response: You call it bailing; I call it saving myself. I have a wife and two children who need me. My previous job was taking away a ton of my family time. It was also negatively impacting my health. I make no apologies and no excuses for the decision I made. If you meant to give me some sense of guilt, you failed. My wife and kids would look at you and say: EPIC FAIL! I would agree with them.

As for your attempt at rewriting the insulting statement: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Again, I would give you the response: EPIC FAIL! In many ways, my new job gives me the ability to "do" more. I would also suggest that you proofread your final snark statement. It lost serious impact with the word "to" instead of "do"...just saying.

Finally, I would say to you... THANK YOU for responding and having an opinion! The purpose of this blog is to get people to think more about education and why we are failing to serve the vast majority of the students. It's time to change the system and to find something that truly prepares these students for the world that awaits them. Mediocrity is not acceptable!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Need $400,000! Stat! (Well, not ME, but some people I know do.)

I had lunch with Becky James-Hatter, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri recently. I consider her a friend and I was so glad to catch up with her. While we only took about an hour or so for lunch, we managed to cover a ton of subjects.

One of the things we talked about was the needs the agency is facing as they continue to strive to serve as many children as possible. Right now, they need to raise around $400,000 in order to help fund one of their most successful and beneficial programs. $400,000 sounds like, and truly is, a significant amount of money. However, when you consider what that $400,000 will do, it seems like such a small amount. In the world of investing, which I profess to know less than nothing about, it seems to me that the return on investment would be considered high.

Becky explained that next year, the government will cut her funding for the AMACHI program. The Amachi program serves the children of parents who are incarcerated. So, Dad is in jail, Mom's working and trying to make ends meet and BBBSEMO, through Amachi, connects a positive adult influence into the life of this child. That positive adult role model could be the difference between that child following in the footsteps of his father or following a different set of footprints. Still, $400,000 is a LOT of money for just one program that may help keep a few kids out of prison later.

So, I did some checking to find out why $400,000 would be so important. Here are a few facts for you to mull over:

1. 2.5 MILLION children in the U.S. have a parent in prison.

2. 60,000 children in Missouri have a parent in prison.

3. BBBSEMO provides a positive role model for 1,140 of those children.

4. According to the article "The Cost of Prison", it costs approximately $16,308 per year to incarcerate a person.

5. "Prison Count 2010" stated that there were 30,792 prisoners in Missouri as of January 1, 2010.

6. The Missouri Department of Corrections lists their FY2011 budget is $660,034,212. That's 660 MILLION, 34 THOUSAND, 212 DOLLARS! (I checked and the math doesn't add up just right because $660,034,212 divided by 30,792 prisoners equals $21,477.10. But, I'll stick with the $16,308 figure from the report.)

Allow me to play around with the math...right now, it takes about $1200 to match one adult to one child. That sounds like a lot of money "just to let two people meet and form a friendship." However, that's not what really happens.

There is a very intensive screening process for both the adult volunteer and the child joining the program. There are match specialists and folks who work to ensure that the match becomes a good one according to very specific indicators. The matches are even color-coded into red, yellow and green.

And, of course, there's the all important matter of match retention. How long does the Big stay in touch with and remain active in the life of a Little? BBBSEMO has the nation's highest quality of matches and longest match retention rate. I hope you are still with me, I'm getting to the big finale!

So, $400,000 could be spent on housing 25.527 prisoners for one year or it could be spent on matching 333 (at $1200.00 per match) kids to caring adults who will work hard to keep them out of the prison system later on. If you look even deeper into this, the return on investment is even greater because the matches typically last for several years.

Now, consider the fact that they are serving 1,140 children of parents who are currently incarcerated. If they only made an impact in the lives of 26 of those kids (that's 2% of the total kids served), they would be saving the state more than the $400,000 they need to keep the program going.

Are you with me on this? Do you see what needs to happen here? Will you help me make it happen?

I'm on a mission. I'm going to ask, beg, plead and do whatever I can to help them raise that $400,000 by next December. I'm going to make a small donation to get the ball rolling. It won't be anything stellar or grand because, like many of you, the economy has affected us. However, my fat butt can give up a few trips to Starbucks in order to make a donation.

Here's what I'm asking you to do:

1. Pray for this organization and the good works they do.

2. Think about making a donation.

3. Go here to DONATE. It's ridiculously simple! You can donate as little or as much as you want! $5, $10, $15, $20, etc. (If anyone wants to give $100,000 or more, I'll clean your home from top to bottom and I'll iron your bedsheets! It's an OCD thing of mine and I will be glad to put it to use for you !) If you donate because of this post, put it in the comment line on the website and ask them to direct it to the Amachi program.

4. Send the link to this blog post to every person you know in Missouri (elsewhere if you want!) and ask them to match your donation!

5. Consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister.

If you absolutely cannot afford to donate please simply say a prayer for them and for the 60,000 kids in Missouri who have a parent in prison. Pass this link along. Ask people you know to donate. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing to help this worthy cause.

Finally, here's a little scriptural motivation for you: Matthew 25:31-46.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Effectively Use Your Windshield Time

My current job allows me the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Some weeks, I put as many as 1200 miles on my truck. That's a lot of windshield time!

In order to make the time pass, I listen to a lot of talk radio along with stations that suit my mood at the time. My boss would rather I spend the 1200 miles per week thinking about how I'm going to make my next sale or increase my business. She's kinda kooky like that. I do spend some time thinking about those things, but 1200 miles of thinking like that might make you go crazy. That may be how she ended up the way she is. Which is INCREDIBLY AWESOME AND SUPER-D-DUPERTY TERRIFIC! (I may be crazy but I ain't stupid!)

Those of you who travel as much as or more than I do will probably relate to this. Otherwise, I'm kinda crazy and may need to increase my medication.

So, as I motor up and down the interstate and state highways and county roads and city streets, I have a lot of random thoughts. I thought I'd share some with you:

1. Why do dolphins have such cute faces? Is it to fool us into a false sense of security? I've heard that they attack people at times. Maybe they plan on taking over the world. I need to start a "Watch the Dolphins" campaign.

2. If I had to define my work as a shape, what shape would it be? I haven't settled this one yet. I'm thinking along the lines of a rhombus, though.

3. Why is it that the black sheep has to give up his wool while all the white sheep get to keep theirs? He has three bags full and has to give one to "the master," one to "the dame" and one to "the little boy who lives down the lane." How come the white sheep aren't giving anything up? I'm smelling some nasty racism here. It's troubling!

4. Why does Illinois have 2-3 state employees manning a rest area when the state is almost bankrupt? I love their rest areas. They are beautiful and very clean but does it really take 2-3 people to maintain each one? Missouri rest areas seldom have one person in them. (They are also pretty nasty.)

5. Has anyone ever figured out how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

6. Do Muslim people say WWAD, or do Buddhists say WWBD, like Christians say WWJD?

7. Has Starbucks secretly mixed something in their coffee to make people addicted? I'm thinking so. I find it hard to enter a town with one and not stop by.

8. Why isn't every gas station along a major interstate or highway equipped with pay-at-the-pump pumps? Really, in this era, shouldn't that be a requirement for operating a gas station along an interstate or major highway?

9. Do my children REALLY miss me or do they just lead me along when I call because they see me as elderly and frail and in need of some positive reinforcement?

There, I'll stop with nine. Most people would go to 10 but I'm fighting my OCD tendencies this week and I'm stopping with 9. I also think a lot about my OCD tendencies when I'm driving. That statement doesn't really count as number ten because I didn't put the number in front of it. See, I'm beating this OCD thing already!

I hope this post has given you a glimpse into my life as a road warrior. I'm off to start another week of selling in Missouri and Illinois. I'll be thinking about you and a host of other things as I make my way up and down the road!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Settling for Mediocrity

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following is my opinion. You don't have to agree with me. You should think for yourself, do some research, ask some questions and form your own opinion. You should also know that I'm speaking in broad generalities and about the majority of schools in America. It is also important to note that I'm not singling out public schools. I'm referencing what I believe to be the current state of education today.

No Child Left Behind is a great slogan. Who can argue with it? It's a noble idea and it resonates with all of us. NCLB became law on January 8, 2002. After 10 years, students are still being left behind. Why is that?

It seems to me that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in revitalizing and revolutionizing the educational system in the United States is to begin by accepting the fact that the focus in most schools is two-fold:

1. Maintain or advance the average student.
2. Remediate and advance the poor student to a status of average and keep him/her there.
I know some of you will immediately start talking about gifted education and will assume that I've left it out of the mix by accident. I haven't. Quite simply put, the state of education for the gifted child is nothing short of abysmal.

Let's take a brief look at the purpose of education today. If you read most school mission statements, vision statements, values statements, goals, objectives, action plans, etc. you will predominately see rhetorical statements about making students "life-long learners" or about educating each child to his/her potential, or about ensuring each student receives an education that will prepare him/her for "the global workplace."

I want you to look at your local school's mission, vision, values, improvement plans and other documents. Most are available online. If they are not, you should be asking your school why they aren't. Most of what you will read will fall into one of the broader generalizations I listed above.

Now, ask yourself this question, "Is that what I want for my child?" Or, ask this, "Is that adequate?" Or, how about asking this one, "What, exactly, does that mean and what, exactly, does that look like at the central office, in the main office of each building, in each classroom, and elsewhere throughout the district?"

Next, go find some teachers in that district and ask them, "What is the district's Mission Statement? Vision Statement? Values Statement?" I'm willing to bet you your favorite drink at your favorite coffeehouse that no one you ask can answer that without looking it up. If you find someone who does know it, ask them this, "How does that relate to what you do as a teacher or administrator? How are you fulfilling that mission, vision, values, etc.?"

In a reformed educational system, I believe the Mission, Vision and Values of every school system ought to be stated similar to this:
Mission: The mission of this school system is to teach to each child as though he or she has a
genius I.Q.

Vision: In this school system, we recognize that all children, indeed all adults, have different strengths and weaknesses. In this school, each child is taught according to his/her strengths first and weaknesses second. We will focus on what that child does well and we will push him/her to excel in those areas. We will work on areas of weakness so that the student has a grasp of the key concepts and ideas so that an area of weakness cannot become an impediment to an area of strength.

Core Beliefs:
  • Every student learns from successes and failures. Students will be allowed to fail at tasks so that they may try again and learn from mistakes. Making mistakes is essential to learning.
  • Teachers will present essential information to students, but their primary role will be to guide each student as they embrace and hone their strengths and reduce their weaknesses
  • Grade configurations are meaningless. We don't use them.
  • Parents are the primary educator in their child's life and are expected to embrace that role and become active participants in their child's education.
  • We will not give your child gratuitous and meaningless praise and accolades. Only excellence and exceptional achievements will be recognized and honored.
  • Mediocrity is not acceptable. Everyone is capable of excellence.
  • Truly gifted students will be given the most rigorous education possible. They will be pushed to their limits and more will be expected from them.
  • Moral values and good character are essential attributes for all people. Administrators, teachers and students will be held to the highest standards.
  • Like Physicians, we will do no harm.
In a nutshell, that's how I think schools ought to operate. Forget race, forget gender, forget socioeconomic status, forget the idea that getting everyone to average is the ideal state. The ideal state is excellence, regardless of race, gender, economics and even learning disabilities.

Right now, our schools are focused on churning out the future checkout people at WalMart, KMart, Target, etc. In most classrooms, teachers "teach to the middle" because it's safe. We need teachers teaching to the highest performers. The "middle" kids will love it because they will know they are being challenged and they will learn from the higher I Q kids. The low end kids and kids with true learning disabilities will learn more as well. They will be pushed to higher levels of understanding.

We swell with pride when we hear that a local high school has two National Merit Scholars. Two students and we get all warm and tingly and talk about how great our schools are. What about the 400 additional students who didn't make that list? Does that make us warm and tingly feeling? I'm willing to bet that there were more than two students in that class who were capable of being National Merit Scholars but didn't hit the mark because they sat in classes where "teaching to the middle" was the norm. In my opinion, that's doing great harm. Mediocrity begets mediocrity and it destroys excellence!

Let's take a look at the abysmal graduation rate in many schools. Does that give you a warm and tingly feeling, too? It makes my stomach hurt.

"The primary reason nearly half of the young adults gave for dropping out was that classes were uninteresting. Another major factor was that the students spent time with people who were uninterested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by students with high GPAs and those who were motivated to work hard.

In general, feeling unmotivated or uninspired to work hard was a significant factor in the drop outs’ discontent with school. In focus groups, the young adults said school was boring, they didn’t learn anything, and school was irrelevant. However, many of these respondents said they would have liked to have been inspired. Further, while a majority said their school’s graduation requirements were difficult, 66 percent said they would have worked harder if more, including higher academic standards and more studying and homework, had been demanded of them to earn a diploma."(Source: Center for Exceptional Children)

Does anyone else see the bigger picture here? I know, from firsthand experience, that we are not going to convince 100% of our students to graduate. Some are simply lazy or come from homes where education is seen as unimportant, or they suffer from a mental illness, drug addiction, etc. I know those kids are out there. But, what if 50% of the kids who dropped out in the last schol year were the respondents in the survey above and they don't suffer from any of the conditions I listed.

It's reported that up to 7,000 students drop out of school Every Day. You read that correctly. That's one student very 26 seconds. If that is accurate, and it should be since it comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, that's around 1.3MILLION students dropping out every year. If 50% of those students drop out because of the reasons listed by the CEC study, isn't that reason enough to completely rethink and transform education?

Don't we owe it to those 650,000 students who were disengaged, unmotivated and uninspired? Remember, too, that these students who dropped out did so because a parent or guardian let them. I'm sure there were a large number of students who didn't drop out but wanted to. They skated through with grades just above failing. Is that a quality education? Is that who you want working with, for or by you?

My point is this, the American educational system has decided to accept mediocrity. Instead, it should be striving for excellence. There is plenty of fault and blame to spread around. It doesn't matter who we blame, what matters is fixing the problem.

Go back and review your school's Mission, Vision and Values statements. Do they promote mediocrity or excellence? What are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Spouse is a Voodoo High Priestess: A "mostly" True Version of The Christmas Parade Story

Here's a picture of mE from Sunday night. Our little slice of heaven has a parade every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Every year, The Girl Child wants to be in the parade. She's walked as a Brownie and she's walked as a Girl Scout. We dropped Scouts this year for a variety of reasons including but not limited to:
1. The meeting time was not convenient.

So, this year, she was "invited" by the local newspaper to walk with the Jr. Reporters. She is a junior reporter for her school and is given various assignments throughout the year. I always try to get her to write some type of expose piece on the corruption within the Catholic school system in our town but she always rolls her eyes at me and tells me that she has to write about the new construction, or "stuff that's happening around the school," or whatever assignment she was given. These junior reporter types take their assignments very seriously. I'm trying to direct her to the big news pieces, she's more worried about getting her name in the byline on the piece about the new cafeteria that will be ready sometime in the Spring of 9785 at the pace it's going now.

Anyway, The Girl Child was lured to the parade with the promise of a sweatshirt and cups of hot cocoa after the parade. Nothing tempts a nine year old like a sweatshirt with "Jr. Reporter" on the back and the local paper's logo on the front. She's only a nine year old after all and those swarthy newspaper types know how to lure these kids in.

So, it's Sunday morning, it's very cold, it's rainy, it's windy and it's very cold. Also, it was very cold. I get a text message on my phone and I'm super excited because I just KNOW that the parade has been cancelled due to crappy weather.

I check the text and it says that the parade will go on. Obviously, there are some seriously deranged people involved in the decision making process regarding the parade. Either that, or a lot of folks shelled out some serious moolah for their floats and they were threatening to occupy some part of downtown so the parade people caved to the pressure and decided to have it anyway.

That afternoon, I come up from the basement after watching some riveting television and The Spouse says, "We need to leave the house before 4:00p.m. in order to get The Girl Child to her meeting place for the parade."

I respond with, "'s rainy and cold and windy and cold and icky and cold outside. And, mostly, it's cold out and I can't go outside when it's cold."

She gave me that one look, the one that she thinks is intimidating, and said, "We are going to the parade. You are going to drop me and The Boy Child off in front of the newspaper building and then you are going to take The Girl Child to her meeting point in the park."

I gave her my look...the one that says, "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis?!" and I said, ", I'm not."

She responded, "Yes, you are." It was said rather firmly.

I looked back at her and said, "Nuh-uh!"

Then, The Spouse just stood there for a minute, looking at me like I'm some insect she's about to squash, and she says, "YES, YOU ARE! Your daughter is walking in the parade and you are going to drop me and The Boy Child off at our spot and then YOU are going to take her to the park and help her meet up with her group!"

I didn't miss a beat and responded with, "I'm moving to Tybee Island and you can't come. They don't let mean pushy people come on the island, you know. It's also not 32 FREAKING DEGREES WITH A 90 MILE PER HOUR WIND THERE!"

She looks back at me and says, "You are going to the parade."

I have been known to get all religious on people and I just looked at her and said, "I'm rebuking that!"

I guess she wanted to try some pop psychology on me and asked me, "Why don't you want to go to the parade?"

I replied, "Because it is cold outside and I don't like being cold. I'm old, I'm fat and I'm very sensitive to cold weather. I hate being cold. I wouldn't be cold if I were living on Tybee right now."

She said, "You don't live on Tybee, you live here. It's cold but you won't die from it. You are going to the parade and you are going to enjoy it. You don't want to hurt The Girl Child's feelings by not going, do you?"

I don't fall into the pop psychology trap easily so I said, "I could live on Tybee and, given the choice between going back there or staying here and walking in this stupid parade, I bet The Girl Child would skip the parade in a heartbeat. No hurt feelings to worry about then!"

She sat there for a minute just looking at me with a blank stare and said, "You aren't going to Tybee, she isn't going to Tybee. You are going to the parade. She is going to the parade. You will do exactly as I tell you and you will enjoy it!" She must think she has hypnotic powers of suggestion or something because she said it slowly and in a real low tone. Lucky for me, I don't believe in hypnosis or the power of suggestion so it didn't work.

I thought I was going to respond, but when I looked up I found myself wearing jeans, heavy socks, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, my winter coat, gloves, a scarf and a hat while driving to the downtown area.

It's all a blur but I distinctly remember dropping her and The Boy Child off at the newspaper office and driving to the park. I also remember standing in the freezing cold for an eternity waiting for the newspaper people with the sweatshirts to show up. Then, I know I ended up parking in the lot behind the newspaper and taking up residence in the chair beside my wife in downtown Our Town.

If you look at the picture, you'll see that I'm all bundled up and I have a BEACH TOWEL covering my legs! I'm not sure how or why I had a beach towel unless my subconscious self was warring with the voodoo she used on me and the beach towel was some form of rebellion on my behalf. Even though I was under some hypnotic spell, I still managed to be cold and miserable.

The Spouse posted this picture on Facebook during the parade. I bet she earned some voodoo credits with the local voodoo priestess chapter.

My mother called me and told me I looked like a homeless person. I tried to explain that I was married to a Voodoo High Priestess and that I only looked that way because my wife had obviously sacrificed some poor chicken and said an incantation. She doesn't believe me, though. Maybe she's under The Spouse's control, too.

First chance I get to break free, I'm headed for Tybee Island!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Technology and Transitions...Two Big Issues in Education Today

Are Computers the Answer to a Better Education: This NYTimes article looks at a Waldorf School that has NO TECHNOLOGY and educates the kids of some of Silicon Valley's Technogeniuses! After reading this article, what do you think about the use of technology in the classroom?

Transition Troubles: This article is from EDWeek. For a while now, there's been a focus on the transition issues associated with students when they leave middle or junior high schools and head into high schools. The solution, in many cases, has been to adopt a Freshman Academy model of some sort. Many of those have been quite successful. Ironically, while we've been so focused on the transition to high school, we've neglected to look at the impact of transitioning from elementary to middle or junior high. Give this a read. I've heard that the national Middle School Conference dealt with this issue quite extensively.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not a Person I Admire...More Like People I Admire

Mondays are about picking out a person I admire and telling you why. Today, I've decided not to focus on a particular person or a couple of people I know. Rather, I'd like to tell you why I'm such a HUGE fan of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

A few years ago, while toiling away as a principal in a junior high school, I was actively and openly looking for ways to bring more positive role models into the lives of many of the students in my building. I had formed a partnership with our local Boys and Girls Club (another perfectly wonderful and worthy organization) and we were offering programming in the building after school for students who wanted to participate.

Still, I felt that there must be more I could do to help so many of these kids. So, I made a call to the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency director and asked her if we could meet. We did and, at the time, it was difficult to figure out what a partnership would look like between the school and the organization. Most of the kids they served were elementary school kids, they had a very limited budget, and it just didn't seem like something that could happen right now. We left the meeting agreeing that I could send referrals to the organization and they would screen the kids and try to match them up with a Big.

Fast-forward a few years and I was asked to sit on a board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. The home office is based in St. Louis and they have a satellite office here in our town. BBBSEMO wanted to take a look at the impact of the Big/Little relationship in regard to student success in the areas of attendance, behavior and academic achievement as measured by district and state assessments. So, we met at a local eatery one evening with a few elementary principals, myself, the Alternative School Director, the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent, and a few folks from the local University.

We were told from the onset that they were curious on two fronts:

1. Does having a strong Big/Little relationship have an impact on a student's success in school?

2. Is there a way the Bigs could help the students find more success in school?

We met quarterly and spent much of the time in those first meetings deciding what to measure, how to measure it and what the thresholds were for taking measurements. The thing that CONTINUOUSLY impressed me was the agency's constant focus on finding new ways of helping the kids they serve. They didn't just want "ideas" or "plans" or "I think this would work". They took each idea, question and comment seriously and they scrutinized it. We were asked "What would that look like?", "How would that help?", "Why is this the threshhold and not another ________?", "How would we measure that?", "What are the biggest indicators of success and failure in students?", "How could a Big have a more positive impact or greater influence on this without compromising the relationship?" etc. The questions were deep and probing. Each answer to each question was probed deeper and deeper until there was a real understanding of the concept or idea or metric or whatever.

I've always heard that "you know quality when you see it". This was quality. This was the good stuff. These were the conversations that my teachers should be having with each other and with me. These were the conversations the teachers and I should have been having with the kids we taught.

After several years of collecting data based on the metrics we agreed upon, we began to see trends and correlations between the data. Successful, strong matches DID make a difference in the life of the Little! There was hard, quantifiable data that indicated that the stronger the relationship between the Big and Little, the more likely that child was to do well in school in all areas. The data also showed that Bigs who were asked to speak positively about school, inquire about the Little's day or week or month at school, or who simply asked their Little to give them a call after a big test or project had Littles who missed fewer days of school, had better behavior than previously and increased their academic scores in both district and state assessment measures.

It sounds so simple. And, in many ways, it really is simple. Sometimes we take a really complex problem like student success and we assume that it must require a really complex answer. The truth is, some of the most difficult problems are solved with the simplest solutions. In this case, having a caring adult role model who takes an active interest in your education, speaks positively of education and checks in on your progress can make a significant difference in the school life of a child.

I once wrote an email to a friend decrying the hopelessness of many of the students I encountered. I wasn't calling them hopeless. Rather, they saw no HOPE. It's hard to be motivated about anything when you have no hope. Every child deserves to have some hope. Many in this area do not. I've seen it and I've heard it from their mouths. They want to believe that someone really cares about them, but they have no solid proof.

BBBSEMO instills HOPE in the lives of the children it serves. They have hard data that proves that what they do makes a difference in the lives of children.

Now, are you wondering what YOU can do to help them help kids? Give the local agency a call and simply ask, "What can I do to help?". Maybe it's a donation of money or time, maybe you could become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Either way, you win and some child wins.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow and today is my "Anything Goes" day, I thought I would write about a few things for which I'm thankful.\

1. My parents.
2. My beautiful wife.
3. My wonderful children.
4. My sister, brother and their families.
5. My incredible in-laws.
6. My ridiculously insane extended family.
7. My truest friends (you know who you are Dinner for 8).
8. My neighbors, both past and present.
9. My coworkers.
10. Last, but certainly not least, Jesus Christ.

1. Tybee Island, Georgia.
2. The Great Smoky Mountains.
3. The beauty of Missouri.
4. My homes (past and present).
5. The churches I've worshipped in.
6. America, in spite of all the turmoil, it's still the greatest country on earth!

1. iPad2.
2. iPhone 3G (I know, I really need to upgrade!)
3. Clothing.
4. Food.
5. My house.
6. My truck. (Almost 7 years old with 118,000+ miles on it and running like a champ!)
7. My bed.
8. Technology in general.

Single Most Important Thing for Which I'm Thankful:
A God who loved me so much that He gave His only son as a sacrifice so that my sins could be forgiven.

For what will you give Thanks tomorrow?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Education Pieces You Should Read

11 States Seek Relief from NCLB... President Obama and the DOE have offered states the opportunity to get relief from some of the expectations of NCLB in exchange for tightening their standards and some other concessions. This article, from The New York Times, briefly hits on the states that have applied so far and what they are doing to meet the requirements.

Middle School: The Critical Years... Is a series of articles from the New York Times worthy of the time to read them.

What if the Secret to Success is Failure... Is one of the most impactful pieces I've read in a while. This article is worthy of being read, reread, printed and distributed to all teachers, principals, school reformists, etc.

How to Get Fired... This is an example of one principal who lost his mind and got fired because of it. Quite frankly, he deserved it.

Fixing the Graduation Rate... This article takes a look at the disparity between states in graduation rate reporting. Missouri's system is pretty insane and very difficult to follow. Basically, if a student drops out as a sophomore, comes back to school six months later, then drops out again, he/she is counted in both the sophomore graduating class and in the junior graduating class. In theory, a student could be counted in four different graduation cohorts. It's a crazy formula that has needed revision for a long time. Unfortunately, this "fix" seems to be just as confusing as the old formula.

A Unique Way for Schools to Increase Cash Flow... How do you feel about schools placing advertising on their school buses, buildings, etc?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Two Who Have Become One

It's Monday and that means it's time for a look at someone who inspires me.

Since Thanksgiving is just a few days away, it seems appropriate that I write about family. Not just any family, though. This is family that I've grown up with, fought with, fought beside, been mean to, been kind to and everything in-between. I'm talking about my sister and her husband. Some, those who don't read beyond this paragraph, will assume I've taken the easy way out on this topic. That's hardly the truth.

My sister is married to a saint of a man. David is, simply put, one of the nicest guys ever put on the earth. He's not a softy or a sissy. In fact, he's far more manly than I've ever been or will ever be. He speaks softly but deeply. He works with his hands, tears apart motors, puts them back together and looks for the next one to work on. He manages the shop of a semi-truck dealership. He can dissassemble an entire 1966 Mustang in horrid condition, repair everything that's wrong with it, rebuild the motor and give it to his only child for her high school graduation present. All of this manliness is tempered with a kind and gentle heart. He loves his wife and daughter unconditionally and he expresses that love and devotion to them in ways that few others could.

My sister, on the other hand, is loud and, well...obnoxious at times. She'll compliment you if it's earned but she'll criticize you if you tick her off. Here's an example: She will order from a fast food place, pull up to the window, pay and then wait. If, God forbid, the worker bee at the window foolishly says, "Would you please pull up to the yellow line? We'll bring your food out to you?" She is just as likely to respond with, "No, I won't. This is a fast food place. If you can't fix it fast you shouldn't fix it at all." I have a theory that certain fast food chains actually hire her to go through their drive-thru lines just to see if the newbies are cut out for the job. That's the brash side of her.

The kinder, gentler side of my sister shines through when she is helping others. I think it's fitting that she works as an HR person for a mental health establishment. She has the right stuff to be an HR director. She can have the tough conversations and she can be very gracious and welcoming. She's also meticulous in her work. Very, very meticulous. When she speaks of her job, she often talks more about the needs of the clients they serve or the various trials and tribulations of the employees who work for the organization. She is genuinely concerned about them and their welfare and, I know for a fact, she has helped them out with her own time and money. Underneath that brash exterior, there's a beautiful heart and soul.

So, now you know a bit about each of them. What you don't know is that on top of both of them working stressful jobs that require far more than 40 hours per week, and on top of raising a beautiful and magnificent daughter, and on top of them both doing volunteer and charity work; they are taking care of David's octogenarian mother. (David has a brother who is also very involved in his mother's care but lives in Manhattan.)

If you've never cared for an elderly person who is in declining health, the magnitude of what they are doing may elude you. Let me help you understand what's going on in their lives.

They get up early in the morning, work 8-10 hour days, and then one or both of them drive around 30 miles north to check on David's mother who resides in a nursing home. David's mother is a genteel, Southern lady. She exudes elegance and grace. It's easy to see where David gets his kind heart and good manners. Now, he and my sister must watch the daily decline in health of his mother. If you've cared for someone who is in declining health, you know the emotional and physical toll it can take on you. David and Kathy are living that life. As the elegant life of David's mother slowly slips away, David and Kathy sit with her, console her, and help her in ways few will ever know of.

I could go on and on about their dedication and devotion to David's mother but I'll give you one illustration that, I think, sums it all up.

The cost of residential care for David's mother is exorbitant. Her stay was being taken care of by Medicare, but that has run out. So, in order to help his mother, David and Kathy have decided to sell their home, buy his mother's home and use the money from the sale to pay for her continued healthcare. David and Kathy have a beautiful ranch style home. The landscaping is stunning and all of it was done by David. David loves rose bushes and he buys these crazy varieties that require a ton of care. He plants them, fertilizes them, runs an irrigation system to them, prunes them and does everything possible to keep them alive and flourishing. He can talk for hours about rose bushes and he does so with an enthusiasm that is contagious to even the most uninterested listener.

The example that my sister and her husband set for me and my wife and for others who know them is nothing short of outstanding. They make the right choice every time when it comes to helping his mother. They make the most difficult choices with ease and grace and elegance. Many, including myself, could learn valuable lessons from them.

The Bible tells us that others should know we are Christians by our actions and that when we marry, that the two should become one. Kathy and David are surely examples of Christ's commandments to feed the hungry, care for the sick and dying, to love one another, and to love your parents. They have also become the embodiment of "becoming one".

During this Thanksgiving week, I would ask you to stop for just a moment and to give thanks for people like them. Say a prayer for Kathy, David and David's mother. I know I will.

P.S. Love you Sis and David! (Mom, stop crying and don't make mushy talk about this!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Updates on My Heroes

A few months ago, I wrote about Kimberly Adelson, Julie Tipton and Kate and Ashley Lipke. All three are friends who've endured horrible ordeals and unbelievable stress in their lives. It's been a while since I updated you on them so....

Kimberly Adelson: Kimberly has continued a roller-coaster ride of recovery and illness as she has battled with her cancer. Through it all she has remained incredibly strong and faithfilled! I, along with others, have been praying for her and asking others to do the same thing. On Monday of this week, Kimberly had a PET Scan at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis.

If you've followed her journey, you know that she's been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, rediagnosed, received good news, bad news and no news. She's had just about every complication and side effect associated with her cancer and its treatment, too.

So, Monday morning, as she walked into the cancer center for her PET Scan, she was full of worry and concern. I can only imagine what it must have been like to just sit and wait for someone to come deliver the news. It's seldom been good news in the past.

The doctor walked in and announced he had "good news". He stated that THERE WAS NO SIGN OF CANCER ANYWHERE ON THE SCAN!!! She is in full remission!

People, if you've ever wondered if your prayers are heard and answered, know that they are!!! Kimberly is elated. It's the perfect gift for the holiday!

Julie Tipton: If you remember her story, you know that her son committed suicide in May and she has been a tower of strength through the whole ordeal. She has touched so many lives in such a positive way by her example of trusting in God.

Julie continues to do well. She still mourns the loss of her son, but she finds comfort in knowing that God heals and that she has been able to help others through her experiences.

Ashley and Kate Lipke: Ashley is the Mom and Kate, aged 4, is the second cutest little girl in the world (my daughter is the cutest, of course). Kate was born with a heart disease called HLHS. Basically, she has half of a heart.

Kate has had a series of surgeries to keep her alive. The latest surgery, called a Fontan, happened just a few months ago. While Kate has given us all a few scares, overall, she's doing GREAT!

Ashley and her awesome husband, Scott, and their boys continue to be such a role model for all of us when we forget to trust in God. They recently shared a movie with us, Defeating the Giants. We watched it as a family and it was a terrific movie with a tremendous message of hope and trust in God.

So, that's the short of it for those folks. Until we meet tomorrow....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


So, it looks like it's been over a month since I last posted. There are a number of reasons for that and I'll give you a few before I move on to more interesting things.
1. Work has picked up and my travel has gone from almost none to 4 days per week.
2. The kids are back in school and "hometime" is being sucked up with "homework time". I'm relearning 6th grade Math! That's a good thing... I think.
3. I've been in a bit of a funk.

There you go, folks. Three reasons I haven't written in a while.

Now, on to more important things...

I will resume posting regularly effective immediately. I think the plan will look something like this:

Monday: Personal Profile -- a look at someone I know who inspires me or who I think is worthy of being profiled.

Tuesday: Education Related Foolishness -- I'll find an education related issue to write about or I'll simply post a link to an article, ask you to read it and respond.

Wednesday: Anything Goes -- Since it's Hump Day, I'll post about whatever I think is relevant or irrelevant at the time.

Thursday: Family and Friends Time -- I'll write about my little family or my extended family. I'll share the funnier moments with you and I may throw in a few heartfelt things as well.

Friday: The Week in Review -- a look at things I didn't post on the other days.

Thanks for sticking around and thanks for reading. I look forward to a long and happy blogging.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baptismal Show and Tell

The Girl Child has a school project that requires her to bring in something from her baptism and to talk about it. She can bring in her baptismal gown, photos, the candle or anything that will help her tell about her baptism. Of course, her response was, "How can I talk about my baptism? I was a baby. I don't remember that! Duh!"

In order to "refresh" her memory, The Spouse had her get the photo album with her baptismal pictures in it. As we were flipping through it and talking about the who, what, when and where, we came upon several pictures that she felt the need to comment on.

The first picture is one of her as an infant in a carseat. The car seat is sitting on the front lawn of our first home. She and The Boy Child were looking at it and I heard her whisper, "See, I told you I was adopted! Someone left me in their front yard!" Then, they both began giggling hysterically.

I told her she was NOT adopted because I was in the surgery room when the doctor gutted her mother and yanked her out of her belly. That shut her up! (I'm cruel like that at times.)

Another picture they looked at showed The Boy Child at about age two. He's in the background and is holding a big pair of yellow and blue Fisher-Price binoculars to his face. The binoculars are HUGE compared to his little face and he looks like a freaky robot walking toward the sweet baby. They both laughed hysterically at the picture.

The Girl Child announced she was going to take that photo to school to show as she talked about her baptism. I told her it had nothing to do with her baptism. She said, "I know, but it's funny!" It's all about the priorities with her. Humor over substance.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The "Missing Homework" Conundrum!

I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. As a former educator and administrator, I spent quite a bit of time talking with parents whose children either didn't do or didn't turn in their homework.

Believe it or not, there are a TON of students who go home, spend hours doing their homework and then fail to turn it in. They receive missing assignment reports, detentions are given, parents are notified and the hunt for the missing assignment begins.

With most of these students, the work is somewhere in the backback. It's almost ALWAYS in there. It just never made it out. I worked on this great mystery for 15 years and never was able to make sense of it. There was no discernible pattern. There were no commonalities between the students. There was simply no rhyme or reason that I could find for this.

With the first type of student, parents ranted and raved, we had locker and backpack checks, we had students check in with the Guidance Counselors daily. We had teachers specifically asking for work daily. We pulled out all the tricks and used them as best we could. Yet, in some cases, they continued to not turn in their homework. I'm almost convinced that there is a neurological disconnect for these students. Maybe it's a fear of turning over something they've worked so hard on. I have no idea!

The second type of student in this situation simply did not do the assignment. Either they "didn't hear the teacher" or they "forgot" or they simply didn't understand the assignment so they didn't do it.

Schools have different responses to these situations. Some simply issue a zero and move on. Some allow the student an extra day but offer a reduced grade for the assignment. Others have a system in place that forces the student to stay after school and complete the assignment. I'm sure there are other options but these are the most familiar to me.

The second type of student with missing assignments was the one who simply failed to do them. That, my friends, would be the case with my 12 year old Boy Child.

I'm at a loss. I am a former teacher and principal. This should NOT be happening to me! It's like the curse of the preacher's kid!

We have done everything we can think of to change this child's behavior. Every day I ask him, "Do you have homework?" and he answers, "Yes." Every day, he sits down and does his homework and announces when he's done. Every day I ask, "Are you sure you did it all?" And every day, he answers, "Yes."

Yet, every other day (or so it seems), I get a call telling me he's got "an academic referral" for not turning in something. It's maddening! Maddening, I tell you! You see, every time he gets one of these academic referrals, he has to stay after school that day or the next for an hour and a half to work on the missing assignment and his current homework.

The Spouse and I are very supportive of this action. HOWEVER, the frequency with which this is occurring is now interfering with my and The Spouse's ability to actually come home for the evening. This is NOT a good thing!

The Spouse feeds me. She keeps me nourished. She enjoys cooking. She does not, however, enjoy being delayed because The Boy Child forgot to do a simple Social Studies assignment. That works out to be a really, really bad thing for everyone.

The question, then, is this: How do we lessen and eventually eliminate the "I forgot" conundrum?

The solution, I believe, begins with a series of rewards and punishments. For instance, if he goes an entire week without an academic referral, we can stop at a favorite fast food restaurant for his favorite food on the Friday of that week. If, however, he receives an Academic Referral during a week then he will lose an entire day of technology. (In our home "technology" is defined as anything that draws power, uses power, or connects one electronically with the outside world.)

So, effective this week, we are going to begin this process. I'm sure, much like the chore chart episode, there will be much to post about in the coming weeks. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

If you have any solutions or thoughts, please share them! I'm willing to try just about anything!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Principals: Keepers of Secrets

During my five and 1/2 years as an administrator in a junior high school, I was consistently amazed when a teacher or staff member would come to me about a student and imply that I knew more than I was telling them. Many, many, many times I didn't know any more or less than the teacher or staff member who came to me.

There seemed to be this belief that I always had more knowledge about the students than the teachers and staff members did and that, for whatever reason, I was holding it back. It was as if I was keeping secrets from them and they wanted to know the secrets that I knew.

The truth is, there were times I knew more than the teacher and, for a variety of reasons, I couldn't tell them "...the rest of the story". It wasn't that I was deliberately withholding information. Rather, I had to decide if the teacher truly had a NEED to know. If, in my judgment, he or she didn't need to know what I knew, I wouldn't tell them. Maybe an example will better illustrate.

Staff Member X comes to me and lets me know that Suzy Q is acting up in class and that her grades are dropping. She's tried to work with her and spoke with her privately but there's been no improvement. She feels like there's something serious going on in the student's life and is concerned about her. So, she asks me: What do you know about her? Is something going on?

I happen to know that there are some very serious issues going on in the family. Suzy's mother came to see me and told me a lot of very personal and private issues they were dealing with at home. I asked her if I could share this information with her teachers and she stated that she would rather I not at this time. I was given permission to share the information with the Assistant Principal, the Social Worker and the Guidance Counselor. I told Suzy's mother that I would be in touch if I felt that others needed to be informed.

Since I have given my word to this parent, I can't tell the teacher anything at this point. I can only make a vague statement like, "She's going through a lot at home. Why don't you contact her mother and let her know what's going on in the classroom? Maybe her mother will give you some insight."

The teacher leaves and is not really happy. In her mind, she wants to reach out and help this child and I'm impeding her ability to do that. In my mind, I'm honoring the wishes of this mother and I'm going to call that mother and let her know that Teacher X has come to me with concerns.

That's the best case scenario of an instance like this.

Here's a sampling of some of the "secrets" I had to keep:

1. Student A's father was selling drugs out of the house and had weapons in the house. He was fearful for his life and his siblings because his father didn't just sell drugs, he used them frequently. When he used them he tended to get a bit out of hand and had threatened to kill everyone. A DFS Hotline call was made by yours truly, the school Social Worker was informed, the School Resource Officer was informed, the Guidance Counselor was informed. A meeting was held by all involved and it was decided that, since the DFS investigation had come up empty but a police investigation was ongoing, it was best to keep this as quiet as possible. The father did not know who had "snitched" on him and we needed to protect Student A.

2. Student B's mother's boyfriend was a biker. He beat her mother regularly, used meth frequently, was prone to fits of violence when he was high, had held knives on the children and threatened to kill them and had made threats to kill anyone who interfered in their lives.

3. A 13 year old girl confessed to her mother that her uncle had been sexually molesting her.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In each instance, I had to weigh the teacher or staff member's "right to know" with their "need to know" and the desires of parents, DFS, police, etc. for me to keep information confidential. It was like trying to juggle balloons with a needle in one hand. Eventually, something was going to pop!

In most scenarios, it was me that was going to pop.

If you are a teacher or staff member who aspires to be a principal some day, try to understand that you will be the holder of such horrible secrets and you will be the one deciding who to tell and how much to tell.

You will have to determine the difference between "need to know" and "a right to know". You will have to differentiate between the staff member/teacher who wants to know what's going on for the sake of the child vs the staff member/teacher who wants to know what's going on in order to use it against the child. (It's true and you know it is. There are teachers out there who will use anything to weed out the students they don't like.)

Your ability to keep these secrets, weigh all the factors and make a good decision will directly impact the life of that child. For better or worse, your decision WILL have an impact. You'll lose sleep over it. You'll be sick to your stomach over it. You'll want to quit your job over it.

So, it's true that principals often do know much more than we tell staff members and teachers. We are the keepers of secrets and it's a terrible, terrible burden.

A Sad Truth About Most Principals: We Care So Much It Hurts

So, today, I made the rounds to some inner-city schools about two hours north of my home. One school I visited touch my heart and I'm having a difficult time getting it out of my head.

The school is a K-6 elementary school in a predominantly Aftrican-American district. The district is the only predominantly African-American district in the city that remains accredited by the state. That's pretty amazing. They must be doing something right there.

I arrived at 1:00p.m. and discovered that the principal and I had crossed our appointment times and she was expecting me at 1:30. I told her it was absolutely no problem and that I would be happy to wait for her.

The office was pretty small to begin with and it was PACKED with kids. Most of them appeared to be between second and fourth grade students. It was pretty chaotic in there and the Principal was heavily engaged in conflict resolution and just maintaining order. Some students were seated at two small tables. They were obviously working on some missing homework or classwork. I smiled and walked out of the office to take a seat on a bench outside in the main hallway.

Sitting out there allowed me to watch students and teachers come and go and interact with one another. In my 30 minute wait, I observed the following:

1. Nice straight lines of kindergarten students taking a restroom break. They were in pretty nice little rows and just about every one of them gave me a little wave and a smile. I waved back and I smiled broadly. They were so sweet and innocent looking. Some had little pigtails, others had braids, one little boy had a mohawk, another child had lots and lots of colorful beads in her hair and others just had "normal" hair.

2. I also noticed the clothing the children were wearing. I thought it might be a uniform because there were a lot of pastel pullover polos but I also saw plenty of kids in t-shirts. Many of the children had clothes with holes in them. Some of the clothes were dingy and threadbear. There were others who had nice clothing that looked relatively new. Typically, their shoes were in a similar condition to their clothes. My heart broke a bit for the children with the threadbear, dingy and holey clothes.

3. The table to my immediate right had a sign above it that said "Peace Table" on it. I wondered what that was about until two 5th or 6th grade girls who had come in to the office came back out, sat down at the table and began to have a "conversation":
Girl 1: Why are you mad at me?
Girl 2: Because you called me a H-O-E! (I smiled and looked away when she spelled it. I wondered if she realized she'd spelled out the gardening tool and not the slang word for whore.)
G1: I did not call you that. I don't know who told you that, but that's not what I said.
G2: You DID call me a H-O-E and you been turning people fake on me!
G1: Whatchoo mean I'm turning people fake on you?
G2: You making Tawanna fake, you making Ashley fake, you making Sharay fake!
G1: How am I making them fake?
G2: I don't even know how to explain it to you!
And the conversation went on and on and on. It was obvious that Girl 1 had a much better vocabulary and was better at controlling her language and temper.

Girl 2 was becoming more demonstrative with her nonverbal actions: her foot was tapping, she was flailing her arms around, she would slap a foot down, she would slink down in the chair, her eyes would roll, her head would loll around. She was absolutely at a loss as to how to explain herself other than to repeat the same phrase over and over: You making them fake! Because of her lack of words, her lack of a command of the English language, she was unable to express herself clearly and it was frustrating her tremendously.

Girl 1, I think, was aware that she was winning this battle of words but was kind enough to offer Girl 2 multiple opportunities and ways to explain what she meant. For Girl 2, this must have appeared like an attempt to frustrate or embarrass Girl 1. She was being as clear as she could and it wasn't HER fault that Girl 1 couldn't understand it.

4. Two boys in probably 5th or 6th grade stopped by to introduce themselves to me. Both held out hands, asked me my name and told me theirs. It was obvious that they were in the Special Education class but I was notably impressed with their excellent manners. I smiled as I thought of how I would tell my wife about them. She works with kids with disabilities and it makes her smile to hear about my encounters with them.

5. One second or third grade boy came strolling down the hall like he was in a mall just looking in the storefronts. He strolled up to me, stuck out his hand, introduced himself and asked me my name. This kid had a sparkle in his eye along with a hint of mishcief. I asked him how he was and whether he liked the school. He told me he did. He then offered to sit beside me and talk for a while but I suggested that he make his way to his original destination. He gave me a knowing grin and walked off after telling me to have a nice day. (I wasn't a principal for five years without learning the look of a con man, even if he was only in second or third grade.) Again, I smiled to myself as he sauntered away.

6. There were some loud teachers in different parts of the building. I could hear raised voices. One male voice I heard repeatedly. He sounded angry or frustrated and he was having a hard time getting the students to do what he wanted.

I was finally called in by the secretary. She looked frazzled and she apologized for my wait. I walked past the Peace Table and the girls were still going at it. It appeared to me that the Peace Table had become a Frustration Table as I walked on by. In the office, I walked through a small gauntlet of little people. Several asked me why I was there. The secretary told them to be quiet and get back to work. She wasn't mean, just matter of fact.

I walked into the principal's office and was greeted by a lovely and elegant African American lady sitting behind a desk piled with papers and assorted books, brochures, pens, and the random junk that we tend to accumulate. She smiled faintly at me and apologized for my wait. Her phone rang, she answered it and pointed to a chair for me to sit in.

I sat and waited for her to get off the phone. As I waited, I noticed the peace sign pillows, tons and tons and tons of books, some dolls placed on delicately balanced books, and her diplomas on the walls along with a few posters.

She got off the phone, I introduced myself and began by telling her that I was a former junior high principal and that she had my deepest admiration and respect. She smiled at me and told me that it had been a particularly hard day.

We talked a bit about the planners I sell and what differentiates them from the competition. I showed her several different series and explained the content partnerships of each planner. She was interested and we talked a bit. While we talked, we were probably interupted no less than 10 times by students, the secretary and a teacher. Each time, our conversation paused, she addressed the issue and we resumed our talk.

At one point, as we were talking about a particular planner, she looked up, looked me in the eye and said, "Why did you get out?" The question was so out of place that it took me by surprise. I paused for a moment as I thought about how to answer her. This is always a tricky question. How deeply do I answer this question?

I looked at her and said, "There were a lot of factors that played into my decision. Family time was very important to me and very limited in my position. The requirements of NCLB were just stifling, too. It was just time for a change for me."

She looked at me for a few seconds and then, in a very soft voice that trembled just a bit, she said, "Sometimes I wonder why I do this. I feel like such a failure at times. I stay awake at night wondering what I've done wrong or how I can do better." As she finished speaking, she lowered her eyes and head for a second.

I'm rarely speechless, but this was a time for a little silence. I sat still until she looked up at me and, before she could speak, I said, "You are not a failure. I've been in that seat, with that stack of papers on my desk and with the insanity that is swirling around you today. I've wondered the same thing. I've lost sleep. I've been physically ill from worrying about my students or from wondering why we weren't making a difference and showing improvement."

She told me that she's been losing sleep over the issues she's facing this year.

We sat in silence for a few minutes before she said, "I don't know why I'm telling you all of this." I didn't respond, but I thought to myself: Because you NEED to tell someone you think might understand you and you NEED to be validated. I've been where you are. I remember feeling what you're feeling.

As we continued looking at planners and talking about resources, she mentioned to me that her children are so language-deprived. I was immediately taken to the conversation taking place at the Peace Table. She explained that many of her students come in so far behind where they should be in language. They are literally missing hundreds of words that should be in their vocabulary by kindergarten and first grade.

We talked about her own children. All are grown. Two of her daughters have master's degrees and one will graduate with a doctorate in pharmacology in May. Her son quit college his sophomore year but is working in technology. She was proud of them.

For whatever reason, she and I connected and we were able to feel a kindred spirit. We both cared passionately about the children we worked with. We both worried ourselves sick over what would happen to certain children when they got home. We both struggled with the fact that we love our own children enough to make education a priority and we were dealing with children from a social structure that doesn't value education. In many instances, that structure doesn't even value the child.

That's foreign to us. We can't understand it. We can't process it. It keeps us up at night. It makes us wonder where we are going wrong. It makes us ill.

It's a sad truth: Most principals care so much it hurts.

Friday, September 30, 2011

TED - The Video Site for Geeks, Nerds and Really Smart People Like Me and You is one of my favorite websites. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. There are TED conferences hosted all over the world. The idea behind TED is to invite the greatest minds of the current age to a stage and have them give a 20 minute or less talk on a topic they are passionate about.

While some of the videos are mind-numbingly complex and/or boring, most of the ones I've watched have been nothing short of fascinating, motivational, thought-provoking, mind-bending, thought-altering and absolutely worth the 20 minutes it takes to watch one.

If you are in the field of education and are not watching some of these videos, I would strongly recommend that you give them a try. Most are absolutely usable in a classroom. Some will be more appropriate for older kids, but there are certainly videos on here that will appeal to elementary and middle school-aged students.
Give it a try and let me know what you find.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

About Me Right Now

Greetings and Salutations,
I wish I had something witty to write, but I don't at the moment...unless, you find my headache and the fact that I'm attending a sales conference funny. Some folks might.
My company has a sales conference once a year. This year, we are in St. Louis, Missouri. According to the folks who've been with the company for 15+ years, this conference blows in comparison with previous ones. After our breakfast offering this morning, I'm going to have to believe them. We had fruit and little muffins, some juice and coffee. Really? We're in meetings from 8:ooa.m. to 8:00p.m. and we have fruit and mini-muffins?!
Enough with the griping.
I'm just letting you know that my posts will be sporadic at best this week. After I'm done here, I'm traveling home and getting ready to celebrate my niece's wedding. I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about after that. My family usually does things big and there's usually a screw-up in there as well.
So, check back when you can. I'll post when I can. The world will be a better place. Promise!

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Conversation That Explains Why I NEED My Lexapro!

The following conversations are pretty much verbatim from the car ride home from school today. I think this explains a lot...especially why I may have posted a picture or two of my Big Rig boxers.

Me: How was your day TGC?
Her: Okay. We had to sing at a funeral.
Me: You did? Why?
Her: Different classes get picked to sing at funerals. We had to go today.
Me: Whose funeral was it?
Her: I don't know. Some old dude named Leo. He was like 68.
Me: Some old dude named Leo, huh?
The Boy Child: 68! That's actually not all that old.
Her: Well, let me tell you, there was a LOT of crying at that funeral.
Me: I bet. People were probably sad because he passed away.
Her: Yeah, those people, too, but I'm talking about in my class!
Me: Your class? Kids were crying?
Her: Heck yeah! Jebediah (not his real name) was crying because his dog died.
Me: Recently?
Her: No, a long time ago. And, he was crying because some relative died.
Me: Recently?
Her: No, I don't think so. I'm not sure. But he started crying, then other people started crying and more people started crying.
Me: Did you cry?
Her: Heck yeah! All those people crying made me sad and I cried too!
Me: Well, I'm sorry about that. That sounds tough.
Her: Yeah. What's for supper tonight?

And another conversation:
The Girl Child: Do you know who Lulu (not the child's real name) is?
Me: I'm not sure. Why?
Her: She's adopted.
Me: She is?
Her: Yep. She's from Taiwan.
The Boy Child: How do you know about Taiwan?
Her: Duh, because Lulu is from there!
Me: Wow. She's fortunate to have been adopted by a nice American family.
Her: Yeah. I think her parents are rich or something.
Me: Really. That's lucky for her.
Her: Elizabeth Ann (not the child's real name) is adopted, too.
Me: Yes, she is.
TBC: How do you know? Did this come from other kids or from her?
Her: It came from Elizabeth Ann.
Me: She is adopted TBC. Her parents talk about it openly and she knows it.
TBC: So...Elizabeth Ann is from Taiwan?
Me: NO! She is from the United States.
Her: And, her family is RICH!
Me: I don't know about that. Her family does very well and she's very lucky to have been adopted by them.
TBC: I think they're rich and she is lucky. She could have been adopted by someone who made her a slave.
Me: What?
Him: Well, you know, a lot of kids are adopted out and the people who adopt them make them into slaves. You know, to work around the house, on the farms, in factories and stuff like that.
Me: I don't think that happens here in the United States. Maybe in other countries.
Him: No, I'm pretty sure it happens here too. A lot of kids are adopted and turned into slaves.
Me: Okay. Whatever. Too bad you kids weren't adopted out.

And Finally...
TGC: How much longer before we get home?
Me: Not long (thank GOD!).

And people wonder why I'm on Lexapro?!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's Time For You To See My Big Rig Undies!

It's time for us to get personal. I'm sharing something very near and dear to my heart with you.

See those pictures to the left, those are pictures of my Big Rig boxers. The first picture is a close-up so you can see the cool trucks. Some of them are upside down and some are right-side up and take a look at the cool steering wheel motif that is repeated throughout.

By now, you are probably insanely jealous and wanting to know where you can get some. The answer is...I don't know.

These were a gift to me. I know, I know. You're all sitting there thinking what an awesome gift this is! I'm sure I had the same thought at the time.

The Spouse gave me these one year for Christmas, I think. Maybe it was a birthday. She's a great gift-giver!

For the most part, I'm a practical person when it comes to buying me gifts. I will ask for things like new socks, dress shirts, ties, even underwear when I need it. I must have made that request that year. This year, I got an iPad for my birthday. That wasn't practical but I turned 45 and I think she felt sorry for me.

Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when I saw these. I was probably pretty speechless. Sometimes, I still am when I look at them.

Just the other day, I pulled them from the drawer and was headed into the bathroom to take a shower. The Spouse made some snide comment about my Big Rig undies. I ignored her. She bought them for me, after all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Laughing Rooster (aka Fonzy or Winston Churchill)

And here's another post regarding the Fair experience and my fascination with roosters.

This rooster caught our eye, or rather, our ear as we wandered up and down the aisles of the show barnes. He laughs instead of crowing. I swear it's true! This is just a snippet my wife recorded. Earlier, he was crowing/laughing loudly and incessantly.

I love this guy! He laughs in the face of adversity. He is a scoff-law or a scoff-rooster. He defiest the very nature of nature itself by laughing instead of crowing. This rooster is the Fonzy of roosterdom!

I mentioned to my wife that this rooster was my hero.

"Your hero? How can a rooster be your hero? He's a stupid rooster who can't even crow." she said.

"WRONG! He's a rebel rooster! He stands before the rest of roosterdom and laughs in their faces! This rooster is tired of being pigeon-holed and stereotyped! He defies the laws of nature to make his statement and to mark his place in the world! He's a lot like Winston Churchill!"

She looked at me with that one look. The one where her left eyebrow trembles a bit. It's the same look she gives The Boy Child when he talks back to her and acts like he's some angst-ridden, down-trodden, bereft waif who has to make his own way through the world selling pencils and apples for pennies while his evil parents sit at home and drink cheap booze and watch reality t.v. (Part of that statement is true. I'll leave it up to you to figure it out. And, Faulkner would be proud of that sentence!)

Then, with the look still in her eye, she said, "That rooster has NOTHING in common with Winston Churchill. How could a rooster have anything to do with Winston Churchill?!"

I had her! "Winston Churchill was a male. Winston Churchill laughed in the face of adversity. Winston Churchill did what was necessary to prove his point. Winston Churchill visited Missouri! So, there! They have a TON in common but you are too blind to see it!"

The Spouse just stared at me. I think she knew I was right but she was too proud to admit it. I'm totally like this rooster, Fonzy and Winston Churchill too!

If I Were a Rooster, I'd Want To Be One Of These Two

So, you know we went to the Fair this past weekend.

One of our favorite things to do is to visit the animals. There's one huge barn full of chickens, roosters, ducks, geese, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small but cute creatures.

As I strolled through the endless aisles of chickens and roosters, it struck me that some of these guys are pretty fancy and, like me, just suave.

These two appealed to my inner-rooster. I like the fancy poofy feathers on the top of the second one. He's totally rocking that do! Look how clean and cocky he is (forgive me...I couldn't resist the pun). This rooster struts through the barn yard give little head nods to all the ladies. He's cool like that. They probably all squawk when he struts by and nods his head at them as he passes. Same thing happens to me if I'm out in public without The Spouse. (Don't tell her though, she's insanely jealous and she carries a shiv in her purse!)

Now, let's turn our attention to the first one. This guy is snooty. Look at him. He's a pretty boy and he knows it. You know he just strolls through the yard not looking at the ugly hens when he walks by. He probably plays the pretty hens against each other. He's like one of those Jersey Shore people. He's all buffed up and struts around like he's a pseudo-celebrity. He's probably got a little toy Ferrari he drives around the barn yard. Jerk!

Okay, so I digressed a bit there. I'm starting to really dislike that first rooster.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What's Kickin' Chicken!

Actually, that's a metal rooster. The Spouse (that's her up above in case you were wondering) and I have developed a fondness for big metal roosters and chickens. It's all because of that crazy Bloggess and her posts about this big metal chicken she bought and wrote about. You can read about it at (Warning: She uses the "F" word and all of its known and unknown variations A LOT!)

So, we were at our local fair Saturday with the kids. In between riding rides and waiting out the rain, we visited the animal barns. We saw lots and lots of chickens, roosters, turkeys, ducks, guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, cows, cows, cows and donkeys.

Sometimes, I get all wistful (not really but I'd like to think I could) and wonder what it would be like to live on a farm and have all of those animals around. They seem so cute and sweet. My little walk through the show barns cured me of that yesterday. It may also have infected me. I'm not sure but I'm watching for signs of bovine fever! (If you remember from an earlier post, I studied medicine at one point. For like 25 minutes. So, that pretty much makes me an expert on some medical things.) The smell was horrendous and the worst part is, most of those animals had been scrubbed and shined to within an inch of their lives! How can anything be clean and smell that foul? I am NOT cut out for farm living.

Like most fairs, ours has its share of people selling homemade things. The dude who made this rooster had them in small, medium and large sizes. He also had some cute little piggies. I wanted to buy this rooster but The Spouse (aka The Money Nazi) thought it would be a waste of money. How could buying that be a waste of money?! That thing's magnificent. You can see that my kids love it and even The Spouse was enamored of it.

She's relentless on the money issue, though. She was all like: "You just broke your arm. We have medical bills that will start coming in. We've already got some medical bills from when I had my procedure earlier this year. We can't afford to waste money on that!"

So, I was like: "Well, maybe you could get a better job that paid more money and I could buy stuff like that! You're so selfish!"

And then she said, "Come again?!"

And I said, "Nothing. Can I at least have some cotton candy?"

I was going to write about how the fair always makes the weirdos come out and I took some pictures of people who were like "dressed up" for the fair. One lady had this huge velvety shirt on with gigantic roses all over it. She had on purple velour pants and these white fur-trimmed boots, too. She was decked out! It was something to see.

Then, I saw this really heavy set girl in her 20's. She had thick, long blonde hair down her back and she was wearing these light blue jeans that were ripped on the right leg from near the bottom hem up to the top pocket. All of her white fatty flesh was showing and that cut piece was flapping back and forth like a sail in the breeze (there was A LOT of fabric!). She had on a top that showed her ginormous boobs and her fat roll, too. I couldn't take a picture of her, though. She kept looking my direction every time I raised my phone. I was afraid she'd beat the crap out of me. She had that mean, pitbull look about her.

I was going to post pictures of those people and more, but I just looked at the middle picture above and noticed that my son got all dressed up. He's wearing my old water shoes. They are like three sizes too big for him. Then, there's The Girl Child. Take a look at that mismatched ensemble. She looks like a rainbow vomited on her. The Spouse looks good and I had on nice jeans, a white shirt and tennis shoes. So, looking at those heathen made me realize that my kids looked like everyone else at the fair! The Spouse and I were completely out of our element! I bet some carnie or somebody is posting pictures of us on their blog right now.

And that top picture, the one with The Girl Child...remember how I told you earlier that she's the Thelma of Thelma and Louise fame? Do you doubt me now? She was totally supporting me in my attempt to get The Money Nazi to loosen her money belt and fork out the cash for that rooster.

Alas, we came home without the rooster and I didn't get any cotton candy. That's okay though, the kids had a good time and that's all that mattered.